History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

01 May 2017

The world of Gilded Deceit - Research at the Met

My daughter Mélanie I just got back from a wonderful trip to New York City, where, in addition to meeting with the great team at NYLA, I got to do some fabulous research at the Metropolitan Museum. The period rooms at the Met are a treasure trove. I loved the furnished rooms in both British Decorative Arts and The American Wing (above Mélanie and I are in front of the façade at the entrance to American Wing's rooms). But on this trip I was also fascinated by Italian pieces that could furnish Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch's villa on Lake Como and the other villas in which my forthcoming Gilded Deceit is set.

The Rannochs' villa dates to the 16th century, but just like their houses in London and Scotland in would contain pieces from a variety of eras, including some like this 18th century furniture. And various parts of their villa would have been remodeled in different eras, so some could resemble this 18th room from Palazzo Sagredo: 

The Thurston villa where some key scenes take place is newer and has ceilings similar to this one:

And there are numerous scene on terraces with marble tiled tables. I loved finding this table from Farnese Palace by Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola c. 1565-1573:

Have you ever walked into a museum and felt scenes from a book come to life?

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03 April 2017

The Rannochs, the Shelleys, Lord Byron, & Historical Liberties

The last full novel in Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch historical mystery series, London Gambit, ended with the "series game-changer" of Malcolm and Suzanne and their family fleeing Britain because of Suzanne's past as a French spy. It was a plot twist I'd had in mind for a long time in the series, but even as I wrote London Gambit, I dithered. I felt guilty about putting my characters through so much. I wondered if I was writing myself into a corner. At the same time I was really excited about the possibilities their leaving Britain opened up for the series. 
When London Gambit ends, the Rannochs are planning to take refuge at Malcolm's villa on Lake Como. The next novel, Gilded Deceit, (which will be released May 15) finds them (after a stop in Switzerland to see Suzanne's friend Hortense Bonaparte) arriving at this exquisite setting in August of 1818. When I sat down to research and plot Gilded Deceit, I realized that Percy and Mary Shelley also traveled to Italy in 1818, and that Lord Byron was already there.
Lord Byron by Thomas Phillips

In  book which thematically in many ways is about exiles and ex-patriates, I couldn't resist including the Shelleys and Byron in the story. Byron's former lover, Lady Caroline Lamb, has already been part of the series. I spent a lot of time trying to plot Gilded Deceit around the Shelleys' and Byron's actually chronology. But the over all chronology of the series and some developments with secondary characters locked me into a certain timeline. So in the end, I confess, I took shocking liberties with Lord Byron's and Percy and Mary Shelley's chronology in Italy in the summer of 1818. 
Percy and Mary traveled to Italy in the spring of 1818 with their two young children William and Clara, Mary's stepsister Claire Clairmont, and Allegra, Claire's child by Lord Byron. The plan was to take the little girl to Byron, who had agreed to raise her. Claire was very conflicted about this, but she was single and penniless. Maintaining a fiction about Allegra's birth was getting challenging and if it became known that she was Claire's illegitimate child, it would be difficult for Claire to find employment. 
Percy and Mary visited Lake Como soon after their arrival with the idea of taking a villa there for the summer and inviting Byron to join them. But Byron preferred to remain in Venice, and in the end the Shelleys, their children, and Claire spent time in Milan, from whence Claire tearfully sent baby Allegra to Venice to live with Byron. The Shelleys and Claire then traveled south, stopped for a month in Livorno, and spent the summer in the spa town of Bagni di Luca, in the Apennine Mountains. 
Mary Shelley by Reginald Easton

On 17 August, Percy and Claire left for Venice to try to see Allegra. They found Byron in an agreeable mood. He offered the Shelley party the use of his villa at Este for the summer where Claire could spend time with Allegra. The only problem was that Percy had told Byron Mary was with them, so that Byron, who could be surprisingly puritanical, wouldn't be shocked at Percy and Claire traveling alone. Percy wrote to Mary that she needed to join them at Este at once with the children. Their baby daughter, Clara, already ill, worsened on the journey. Mary and Percy took her to a doctor in Venice, but by the time Percy brought the doctor to the inn where Mary was with the baby, Clara was dying.
In Gilded Deceit, I have the Shelleys and Byron in Milan over at least part of the summer, so they can meet some other characters in the book with whom their connection later becomes significiant. I have also moved Clara's death back about a month from the end of September to the end of August. And rather than Percy and Mary spending time in Este and Venice after Clara's death, I have the Shelleys go to Lake Como, accompanied by Lord Byron.
I agonized, as I always do, when changing historical facts. But all three characters add an immeasurable amount to Gilded Deceit. Both the novel and the Rannochs benefit from their presence.
 How do you feel about authors changing historical chronologies? Writers, how do you approach such situations yourselves?
For further reading about Mary and Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, I recommend Miranda Seymour's Mary Shelley (New York: Grove Press, 2002); Florence A. Thomas Marshall's The Life and Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Volume I (London: Richard Bentley & Son, 1889); Daisy Hay's Young Romantics: The Tangled Lives of English Poetry's Greatest Generation (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010); and Benita Eisler's Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999).

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09 January 2017


A brief post because my weekend was disrupted by a major storm in the Bay Area. My daughter and I were unable to get home for a while on Saturday night due to road closures and took refuge in a restaurant (photo above). When we finally did get home, our power was out. Not an unusual occurrence when one live sin the country, but the length of time was a bit unusual. We didn't get it back until 3:00 Sunday afternoon, meaning it was out for about 23 hours.

It was, as I told my five-year-old Mélanie, an adventure. It threw my writing schedule off (battery ran down on the computer). But it also proved to be its own type of research. As we struggled to brush our teeth and wash our faces and read books by the light of (battery) candles, I thought about the characters in my books living by candlelight. Candlelight is quite dim, even when one masses a lot of candles together. What was it like for my fictional Suzanne Rannoch to remove her eyeblacking, clean her teeth, or change a nappy, let alone try to read a book or write a letter? One begins to realize the attraction of mirrors and gilding. In fact, at a friend's wedding a few years ago in a beautiful baroque settling, I realized that white and gold walls and mirrors, which can seem garish in the glare of electric light, look beautifully muted by candlelight.

But I can't but think about what a challenge it must have been to just complete every day activities after dark (or even as we discovered Sunday morning, on a gray day), especially for those who couldn't afford a profusion of wax tapers (there was a candle tax too). Greasy rushlights would be even harder to see by. The Argand lamp in the late 18th century with a cylindrical wick and chimney, much brighter than candles, and also cheaper and clean burning, was in high demand and one can see why.

Do you have moments as a reader or writer when you find yourself experiencing first hand some small detail of what it was like to live in an era you write or read about?

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12 December 2016

Boxing Day

In the midst of the busy holiday season (which in our family also includes my daughter's birthday on 13 December) this seems a good time to revisit a post I wrote a while back about Boxing Day.

December 26th is one of my favorite days of the holiday season. A friend and I used to go after-Christmas sale shopping in downtown San Francisco (at seventy-percent off we can afford labels that would otherwise be completely out of reach), look at the decorations, and have a holiday lunch at the Rotunda at Neiman Marcus with a view of Union Square. My friend has moved away, but now I take my daughter Mélanie. Our shopping now includes the Disney Store as well as Saks and Neiman's but we still have lunch at the Rotunda. The last couple of years we've also gone ice skating in Union Square where they set up a holiday rink.

December 26th would also be an important day for the characters in the Regency world of my books, but Mélanie Suzanne Rannoch would not spend the day meeting her friends Cordelia Davenport and Laura Tarrington for an afternoon of shopping in the Burlington Arcade. Instead, Mélanie Suzanne and her husband Malcolm would be presenting Christmas boxes (filled gifts such as food, clothing, toys, and money) to their servants. If they were at Dunmykel, their country house in Scotland, they would hold an open house for their tenants and present them with Christmas boxes (being very responsible landowners, I'm sure Malcolm and Mélanie Suzanne would arrange for a Boxing Day party for their tenants even if they weren't in the country themselves). Being responsible parents, I imagine they would have their children, Colin and Jessica, help fill and distribute the boxes. A far more altruistic way to spend the day, I confess, than sale shopping :-).

December 26th is known as Boxing Day after these Christmas boxes (not, as I vaguely thought as a child when I first read the term in British novels, because it was a day prize fights were held). It coincides with St. Stephen's Day, the day when "Good King Wenceslas looked out" and saw "a poor man gathering winter fuel." The Christmas Box tradition is owed at least in part to the fact that servants would not have December 25th off and so would celebrate with their families on the 26th (taking with them the contents of their Christmas boxes). Thinking about this reminded me once again that there would be a great many people working very hard to keep the elite world of the beau monde running smoothly. Malcolm and Mélanie Suzane are very egalitarian and forward-thinking, but I doubt they'd have done without a staff on Christmas Day. I do think they'd have gone to great lengths to throw a wonderful Boxing Day party, however.
Warmest wishes for a wonderful holiday season!

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15 November 2016

Remembering Dorothy Dunnett

This past Saturday was International Dorothy Dunnett Day. My daughter Mélanie and I celebrated with a group of Dunnett readers in the Bay Area (above) while round the world other Dunnett readers toast the Scottish historical novelist with drams of her favorite Highland Park whisky.

This seems a good time to repeat a post I first put up in 2007 about Dunnett, who has been a major influence on me as writer.

I first discovered Dorothy Dunnett’s books the summer between high school and college. I picked up The Game of Kings, the first book in the Lymond Chronicles, and spent a couple of days curled up on the sofa, glued to the page. I promptly devoured the rest of the six volume series. I told my mother she had to read them. It took her a bit of time to get into The Game of Kings, but soon she was as hooked as I was.

For those who haven’t yet discovered the Lymond Chronicles, the series begins in 16th century Scotland (when Mary, Queen of Scots, is a young child) and ranges all over the Continent. At the heart of the series is Francis Crawford of Lymond, mercenary, scholar, musician. Brilliant, tortured, an enigma to the reader and to most of the other characters. A lot of the fun of the series is trying to find the key to the fascinating code of who Lymond is, both literally (his parentage is in question) and in psychological terms. There’s a wonderful supporting cast of characters, both real historical figures and fictional characters blended seamlessly together. There’s adventure, angst, political intrigue, witty dialogue, and poetic allusions. The writing is wonderfully rich (Dunnett was also a painter), the pacing breakneck.

After the Lymond Chronicles, my mom and I both read Dunnett’s stand alone novel King Hereafter and her contemporary mysteries. And then to our excitement, she began a new series, the House of Niccolò, set in the 15th century, beginning in Bruges but again ranging all over, this time as far as Timbucktu and Iceland. The hero of the new series was a young dyeworks apprentice named Nicholas, dismissed as a buffoon by many but with abilities which lead him to rise in the commercial world and pull him into political intrigue in more than one country. Again, fictional events are blended with real historical events and mysteries abound. Reading the Lymond Chronicles, I thought, “it would have been really hard to read these as they were written and have to wait for each book.” With the House of Niccolò we had to do just that, with two years or so between each book. With their complex characters, intricate plots, and cliffhanger endings, the Dunnett books cry out for discussion. My mom and I talked about them endlessly, but we didn’t know anyone else who read them. I was thrilled to meet fellow writer Penelope Williamson and discover she was also a Dunnett reader. Penny and I spent many long lunches analyzing Dunnett’s books and speculating about what would happen next in the Niccolò series.

Then, in the mid-nineties, Penny and I both got online. We discovered there were whole online groups devoted to discussing Dunnett’s novels. Suddenly we could analyze and speculate with people all over the world. Dunnett readers tend to be a wonderul group–warm, friendly, well-read. I’ve had a great time geting together with fellow Dunnett readers both in the Bay Area and while traveling. In 2000, Penny and I and a number of our other Dunnett-reading friends went to Scotland for a conference in honor of the publication of the last book in the House of Niccolò series. Even now the series is finished (and Dunnett sadly passed away a few years ago) we love to get together online and in person to discuss Dunnett books and other books (not to mention tv shows from Deadwood to Spooks/MI-5 to Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which seems to be a particular favorite with Dunnett readers) :-).

Dunnett talked about reading and being influenced by other writers I love–Sabatini, Orczy, Heyer (certainly you can see bits of Andre-Louis Moreau and Percy Blakeney in Lymond, no to mention a touch of Peter Wimsey). She’s been a huge influence on me. I can see a number of echoes of her books looking at my Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch series–questions about parentage, the secrets of parents echoing through their children's lives, spouses working on opposite sides and wondering if they can trust each other, personal and political loyalties intertwining and conflicting. I still pull out her books and reread certain scenes when I have to tackle an action sequence or a sword fight (The Game of Kings has the best sword fight I’ve ever read).

Have you read Dunnett? Do you enjoy discussing her books? Are there other authors you discuss with friends, online or in person?

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17 October 2016

A Teaser from Mission for a Queen

In July I blogged about Hortense Bonaparte, who is an important character in my new historical  mystery novella, Mission for a Queen.

With Mission for a Queen out in just over two weeks (November 3), here is teaser, a scene between Hortense and Mélanie Suzanne Rannoch. Mélanie Suzanne (the fictional heroine of my series) met Hortense on a mission seven years before. Now Hortense is in exile in Switzerland following Waterloo and Mélanie and her British husband Malcolm are exiles themselves due to Mélanie's past a French spy being exposed. They have stopped to see Hortense on their way to Italy and find Hortense one again in need of their services.

Hortense watched the door close behind Malcolm and Raoul and drew a shuddering breath. She glanced down at her hands, then seemed to force herself to meet Mélanie's gaze.
"You're right to trust Malcolm," Mélanie said.
"I don't doubt it. He's plainly a remarkable man." Hortense gathered the paisley folds of her shawl about her shoulders. "I'm sure you could read between the lines of what I didn't say."
Mélanie reached for her cooling coffee and took a sip. "Some of it."
"You must despise me."
"Darling. Of course not."
Hortense gave a bitter smile, twisting her fingers in the fringe on the shawl. "Aren't you going to say it?"
Mélanie returned the cup to its saucer with care. "Say what, dearest?"
"That you thought I'd already met the love of my life. Having thrown away so much of my life for him, how could I possibly look elsewhere?"
"Hortense—" Mélanie put her hand over her friend's. Hortense's fingers were cold to the touch. "I'd never presume to claim I knew who was the love of someone's life. And even if one does talk in those terms, losing that person doesn't mean one can't feel for someone else."
Hortense glanced away. Silhouetted against the French windows, her face was drawn with anguish. "Does he love her?"
No need to ask whom Hortense meant by "her." Mélanie saw Auguste-Charles-Joseph, Comte de Flahaut, bending over his bride's chair in the supper room at her ball in Berkeley Square two months since, handing his wife into her chair at the opera, circling the floor with her in a waltz. "He cares for her." She saw the look in Flahaut's gaze as it rested on Margaret's perfectly coiffed hair. "There's been gossip, of course—"
"There always is about Flahaut and his women." Hortense's mouth twisted in a wry smile. There had been a string of women in Flahaut's past, long before their scandalous affair ("More beautiful women than I," Hortense had said to Mélanie seven years ago). "And of course, given his situation and her fortune, people were bound to draw obvious conclusions. But I know him. I can't believe that's all—"
 The gaze she turned to Mélanie was wide with fear, but whether fear that her former lover had fallen in love or that he hadn't, Mélanie couldn't have said. She wasn't sure Hortense could have done. "I don't think that is all," Mélanie said truthfully. "He told me he cares for her, and seeing them together, I believe it. But—" She hesitated, wondering how much to say, how much might bring the most comfort. "I don't think it's the same as what you shared. I don't think anything ever will be."
Hortense's mouth twisted again, this time with sorrow. "You're kind, chérie. But now which of us is talking like a romantic?"
"I'm not in the least romantic." Mélanie had a sharp image in her mind of Flahaut, lifting Hortense's hand to his lips, tenderness writ in the angle of his head as it bent over her own. "But I understand love rather better than I did seven years ago."
"Oh, ma chère." Hortense gripped her hand. "Here I am going on about myself when you're facing—"
"We're safe." Mélanie reached for her coffee again, taking refuge behind the gilt-rimmed porcelain. Coffee in Britain never quite tasted the same, even when she or Blanca made it. "Which is more than most of my compatriots can say." She took a fortifying sip of coffee and explained briefly that Malcolm had discovered Carfax knew of her past, leaving out mention of David and Simon. "It's no more than I deserve." She squeezed Hortense's hand, determined not to be coddled. "But I hate what's it's doing to Malcolm."
"I can't imagine he wants to be anywhere but where he is. He's head over ears in love with you."
"My dear." Mélanie straightened up and drew the gauze folds of her scarf about her shoulders. "You've been little more than a half hour in his company."
"And I've seen the way he looks at you."
"Malcolm is loyal."
"Malcolm plainly adores you." Hortense hesitated a moment. "Speaking of which, Raoul—"
"Oh, yes." Mélanie smiled despite everything. "He's head over ears in love with Laura."
Despite her words, Hortense gave a start of surprise. "I think even he'd admit it," Mélanie said. "Or, if not, it's only because words like that don't come easily to him, and he's trying to protect Laura."
"I never saw him—"
"People change. Which doesn't mean he's any better than the rest of us at letting himself be happy." Mélanie leaned forwards. "Right now we aren't the ones with the problems. Tell me about Pierre Amouret."
Hortense drew a breath, a scrape of sound in the lace and crystal of the room. "As you must have guessed, I let myself grow—close to him."
Mélanie had guessed, and though she could never despise Hortense, she owned to having felt a start of surprise she would not for the world let her friend see. Throughout their friendship, she had seen Hortense as single-mindedly in love with one man. Laughable, given her own past and views on love, to feel such surprise, but—"I'm sorry for how it ended, though I'm glad you haven't been entirely lonely."
Hortense's laugh was bitter as stewed tea. "He—we—I enjoyed the admiration. I let myself feel things I hadn't for a long time. Things I shouldn't."
"No one should have to live without—"
"It wasn't love. I don't know about Flahaut, but I'm quite sure I couldn't follow that road again. We weren't even—" Hortense colored. "But I can't deny it was agreeable. Having a man's admiration. Letting myself flirt. What harm could it do? I thought." She gripped her elbows, hugging her arms across her chest. "God, I was a fool."
"You're hardly the first person to have been taken in by someone's romantic attentions." Mélanie swallowed. Hard.
"I should have seen—"
"It's hard to spot when you're not trained to see it. Or even when you are. And he may—"
Mélanie smoothed the links of her bracelet, the slender white-gold chain with diamonds that Malcolm had given her for her most recent birthday. Before he knew the truth about her. "He may really have cared for you."
"I'm not imagining things, Mélanie. I know what he took from me."
"I'm not suggesting you're imagining things. It doesn't mean he didn't care."
"He—" Hortense shook her head. "I don't know what would have happened if he hadn't left. If I hadn't learned the truth. How far I'd have let it go. Not far, I think. But after being alone for so long—I was enjoying the soap bubble. And then yesterday he went out for a ride and never came back." She pushed herself to her feet. "I thought it was odd. I thought"—she shook her head—"that perhaps I'd gone too far. Offended him in some way. He was so courteous and well mannered. It was only that night when I opened my jewel box that I realized my bracelet was missing." She locked her hands together, her knuckles white.
Mélanie pushed herself to her feet as well. "Don't panic just yet. We don't even know why he took the bracelet."
Hortense rubbed her bare arms. "That almost makes it worse. He went to such lengths, it must be important. Which is rather terrifying.
"We'll find it, dearest. Before any damage is done."
"You can't be sure of that."
"No." Mélanie put an arm round Hortense's shoulders. "But the odds are very good. If you don't trust me, trust Raoul. Not to mention Malcolm."
Hortense shook her head. "You and Raoul are expert at fixing things. I'm sure your husband is too. And I'm the sort of person who gets things fixed for her." She stared at a painting of a young Napoleon in gleaming uniform, brilliant and defiant. "But you can't fix everything. Perhaps it's time I learn to be responsible for some of my own mistakes."
Mélanie squeezed Hortense's shoulders. "Life is complicated enough, sweetheart. Take help where you can."
"Spoken by the most self-reliant woman I know."
"Dearest, I wouldn't have survived half this long if I hadn't learned to accept help."
"So I should simply sit here and let you rescue me again?"
"You're one of the strongest people I know, Hortense." Mélanie drew her friend back over to the sofa. "You're keeping your children safe in a dangerous world. There's no challenge more important than that."
Hortense's gaze went to the French windows. Indistinct childish voices echoed through the glass. A blur of movement indicated the game of tag was still in progress. "Both the boys are safe, thank God. And—"
She broke off, but Mélanie knew she was thinking of her third surviving son, Flahaut's child, who lived in secret with his grandmother. And with that realization came the knowledge of something else she had to share with her friend. Not the best time for such news, but perhaps it would at least give Hortense another focus for her thoughts. "Hortense—I saw someone else we both know in England."
Hortense's gaze flew to Mélanie's face.
Hortense stared at her. Seven years ago, when Mélanie had traveled into Switzerland with Hortense so she could give birth to her illegitimate child by Flahaut in secret, Julien St. Juste had escorted them. "He was there on a mission?"
"He was working for Lord Carfax. Malcolm's former spymaster."
"The man you're running from now." Hortense's voice shook with disbelief.
"In a nutshell. Apparently Julien has worked for Carfax for some time."
"Good God." The color drained from Hortense's face. "So Carfax knows about me? About the baby?"
Much as she wanted to deny it, Mélanie knew she had to be honest. "I'm not sure. I don't think so. Julien says he's still loyal to you and your mother."
"And you believe him?"
Mélanie saw the white gleam of Julien's smile and the hard brilliance of his gaze at their last meeting in Hyde Park. "Yes, actually. Julien's always had a code of sorts, difficult as it is to decipher. But he says Flahaut stopped being off-limits when he left you."
Hortense's shoulders snapped straight. "He didn't leave me. We—"
"So I told Julien. Julien asked if I thought you'd have made the choice on your own."
Hortense reached for her coffee and tossed down a swallow. "We have to warn Flahaut."
"Julien's left Britain. I don't think he's a threat for the moment."
"For the moment—"
"We've all learned to live with risk."
"Flahaut isn't an agent. And you aren't in Britain to protect him."
"But I still have friends there. If Julien shows his face again, if it seems we need to warn Flahaut, we can. Meanwhile, you're right. He's not trained at dissembling. Better for him not to know."
Hortense shook her head as though her world had tilted on its axis. "Has Julien always worked for this Carfax? He was my mother's lover. Did Carfax arrange that?"
"I don't know."
"Dear God. To have such an intimate relationship be controlled by a spymaster—"
Mélanie drew in her breath. "Quite."
Hortense's gaze shot to her face. "I didn't mean—"
"It's an apt comparison. In some ways there isn't much to choose between Julien and me."
"Don't be absurd." Hortense returned her cup to its saucer with a crisp click. "You couldn't be like Julien if you tried."
Mélanie reached for her coffee. "Carfax has some hold on Julien, but Julien hasn't worked for him exclusively. And to the extent Julien has feelings at all, he had them for your mother."
Hortense gave a harsh laugh. "Even my mother didn't trust him entirely, though I think she trusted him more than she should have done. Was it Julien who betrayed you to Carfax?"
"He says not, and he seems to have been telling the truth."
Hortense nodded. "If there's one person I'd have expected him not to betray, it's you."
Mélanie's fingers jerked, spattering coffee on her rose-and-ivory-striped sarcenet skirt. "Why—"
"He was half in love with you on that journey into Switzerland."
The cup clattered against the saucer in her nerveless fingers. "Hortense, that's ridiculous—"
"Perhaps more than half."
Mélanie snatched up a napkin and blotted the spilled coffee on her skirt. "Julien isn't the sort to fall in love with anyone."
"You just said his feelings for my mother were real."
"Yes, but—"
"And I think you were right, in a way. He was certainly loyal to her, and because of that I think he's loyal to me. At least to a degree. But you fascinated him."
Mélanie gave a short laugh, Julien's mocking voice ringing in her memory. "Perhaps because he couldn't get me back into bed after that first mission."
"You know perfectly well it was more than that." Hortense sat back against the cushions and regarded Mélanie. "I always thought he wasn't sure what to make of his feelings for you. That you were a challenge to the way he views the world."
Mélanie folded the stained napkin into neat quarters. "You always had a weakness for novels, Hortense."
"There are insights to be found in novels. Not that I think Julien wanted to run off with you and live in a rose-covered cottage—"
"I should hope not. We'd have killed each other inside a week."
"But I doubt the way he felt about you has changed, either. There's something oddly steadfast about Julien."
"That's true when it comes to your mother and you." And yet Julien's voice echoed in her memory. In the right circumstances. With the right woman. You could come close. She'd dismissed his words a few weeks ago. She still dismissed them. And yet, for an unaccountable reason, a chill ran through her.

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19 September 2016

Spies, Loyalty, Betrayal & the Napoleonic Wars Revisited

Someone recently did me the compliment of tweeting a post I wrote several years and four books ago Spies, Loyalty, Betrayal & the Napoleonic Wars. Reading it over it resonated with much of what I am writing about now. I thought I would update it for this week's post. Also helpful because I am in the midst of  copy edits and just got back from traveling (there I am above with my daughter in Ashland, Oregon). I hope you enjoy this updated trip down memory lane.

I gravitated to the Regency/Napoleonic era through my love of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. But I also love spy stories, both James Bond adventure and the sort of intricate chess games and moral dilemmas John le Carré dramatizes so brilliantly. The Napoleonic Wars offers are a wonderfully rich setting for both types of story. So many different sides, so many different factions within sides. The French under Napoleon had been bent on conquest, but they had also brought much-needed reforms to many countries. Some liberal Spaniards saw supporting the French in the Peninsular War as the quickest route to progressive reform. And after the Napoleonic Wars, a number of the victors wanted to turn the clock back to before the French Revolution  and saw any hint of reform as one step away from blood in the streets. Friends easily melt into enemies and back again. Napoleon’s longtime foreign minister Prince Talleyrand  later became prime minister under the Bourbon restoration. Joseph Fouché who had been ruthless in using terror against enemies of the Bonapartist government, was equally ruthless in going after Napoleon’s supporters who were proscribed from the amnesty after Waterloo. In the midst of breakneck adventure, a love affair can have political consequences, a tactical decision can shatter a friendship, it can come down to a question not of whether or not commit betrayal but only of who or what to betray.


I’ve always been fascinated by moral dilemmas. And I’m intrigued by how romantic fidelity and betrayal can parallel other types of fidelity and betrayal (whether between husbands and wives or in their relationship with other characters or with a country or cause). I like writing stories of intrigue set in tumultuous times, but I think in those sorts of times (probably always but then more than ever) choices don’t tend to come down to easy, clear-questions of right and wrong. It’s interesting to see how characters wrestle with those issues and how the personal and the political intertwine. The possibility that a loved one or friend isn’t who you thought they were is perhaps one of our deepest fears in a relationship. And yet most of us are somewhat different people in different aspects of our lives and have different loyalties – to spouses, children, lovers, friends, causes, countries, work. Sometimes it isn’t so much a question of betrayal as of deciding which loyalty comes first. It’s not so far from the seemingly lofty sentiment of “I could not love thee, dear, so much, Lov’d I not Honour more” to betraying a lover for a cause.

Or so my heroine Suzanne might argue. Her husband Malcolm might have more difficulty with the idea. He takes personal loyalties very seriously, though he was the one who went off to the field at Waterloo and risked himself (though he wasn't a soldier) leaving his wife and son behind in Brussels. In the midst of the carnage, he wondered which loyalty he should have put first. While Suzanne, for different reasons, was wondering much the same thing. In the wake of the most recent book in the series, London Gambit, Malcolm and Suzanne have been forced to flee Britain because the secrets of Suzanne's past as a Bonapartist French spy have unraveled. On their way to safety at Malcolm's villa in Tuscany, they stop in Switzerland to see Suzanne's friend Hortense Bonaparte, Josephine's daughter and Napoleon's stepdaughter. They find Hortense in trouble, leading to the events of my forthcoming novella, Mission for a Queen (out November 3). Sitting with Hortense in her elegant salon, Malcolm thinks "He was used to enemies changing into allies. But there was something about sitting in this decorous salon, a few feet away from the stepdaughter of the man who had been his country's opponent for so many years—"

Malcolm's loyalty to his wife has led him into exile from his country and to the stepdaughter of the man he fought against for so many years. He finds himself, alongside Suzanne, helping Hortense with a problem that is intensely personal and yet has political ramifications that could ripple across the Continent.

Writers, do you choose time periods because they lend themselves particularly well to the type of stories you want to tell? Or does your choice of time period influence the stories you create? Readers, do you think you like to read about particular eras because of the type of stories and the issues in those stories that tend to work in those eras? What's the worst choice of loyalties you've encountered in a book? And what's your favorite spy story in any era?

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